Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
From the Providence Journal:
Waterman sorry for e-mail, says gambling is issue
12:45 AM EDT on Tuesday, July 10, 2007
By Maria Armental
Journal Staff Writer
CHARLESTOWN — It started as an e-mail exchange between the Town Council president and a town resident.
Some of those e-mails — released to the public last week — have further strained the town's already thorny relationship with the Narragansett Indian Tribe, and their author, council President Katharine H. Waterman, stands accused of bigotry and racism.
"What I did was inexcusable," Waterman said last night, stepping down from the council's podium and taking the microphone as a town resident.
E-mail: 'Be aware' of issues with tribe
Your Turn: Who do you think is in the right: Waterman or the Narragansetts?
"It was very stupid, and I'm sorry for the people of Charlestown, and sorry for the council I serve on that I wrote the e-mail," Waterman said.
She was referring to a May 20 e-mail she sent to Joseph S. Dolock in which she expressed concern about the Narragansetts — whose reservation sits within Charlestown's boundaries — pursuing gaming on tribal land.
In the e-mail, she urged Dolock — who is part Indian — to read Jeff Benedict's Without Reservation, which is about the Foxwoods casino, and spoke of privileges Indians enjoy and reparations "paid today — by us — to folks who simply by accident of birth can claim Native American blood in some fraction."
The exchange was in response to an e-mail sent through the Charlestown Citizens Alliance — a group of residents that has criticized town government in the past — that apparently sought to rile voters by referring to the Narragansetts and the threat of a casino being built in town. That e-mail has not been released.
The Narragansetts' response did not take long.
John Brown, the tribe's medicine man in training and third in command, spent most of yesterday speaking with the media as well as U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin and Sen. Jack Reed about the e-mails. Last night, he attended the council meeting, taking the microphone to scold Waterman for her writings.
"I hope that you would retract your unfortunate writings … based on ignorance and a misunderstanding" of the Narragansetts, Brown said, demanding that the councilwoman "offer an apology to the aboriginal people of this land."
In a measured response, Waterman said it was gambling she was concerned about, and not the Narragansetts.
"It was not my intention to be … I don't consider myself a racist person," she said.
"Most don't. Most racists don't," Brown interrupted.
"I am concerned about the possibility of gaming," Waterman continued. "I am concerned about the ramifications of gaming."
In her e-mail, Waterman said any gaming should be directed to Quonset Point, "where there is a huge empty old industrial park left over from WWII going to seed. Where four-lane highways already exist and will not feel any more trees, and where high-rise towers will not necessarily look so very out of place."
Her e-mail went on to allege government corruption in town government, "doing their scheming" to make money "through exploitation."
That charge prompted the council, on a 3-to-2 vote, to ask Town Solicitor Robert E. Craven to review whether a criminal investigation is warranted and, if so, who should conduct it.Waterman and council Vice President Harriet A. Allen voted against.
Alan Rosenberg: Where civility is on sabbatical
09:06 AM EDT on Wednesday, July 11, 2007
CHARLESTOWN — I thought I'd take in the circus Monday night, but high drama broke out instead.
And then, this being Charlestown, the circus intruded once more.
The circus in question, of course, wasn't the Big Apple variety that's playing through Sunday at Ninigret Park. It was the Charlestown Town Council, where members seldom miss an opportunity to squabble, interrupt, and make clear their low opinions of one another.
Actually, the council was on its best behavior for much of Monday's meeting. Though members bickered over such seemingly routine matters as the approval of previous meetings' minutes or who had the right to change the wording of an ordinance, council President Katharine H. Waterman only had to bang her gavel eight times during the evening to silence her nemesis, Councilman James M. Mageau.
The calm, though, was deceptive. Everyone in the room knew the storm was coming.
IT ARRIVED near the end of the agenda, when John Brown — Narragansett Indian medicine-man-in-training, the last title in the tribe that comes by bloodline rather than by election, he said — rose to speak.
Brown, the tribe's third-ranking member after the chief sachem and chief medicine man, made an imposing figure at the microphone that faced the council in its intimate Town Hall chamber. Tall and burly, he wore an untucked jean-fabric shirt over his blue jeans, his dark hair pulled back in a short ponytail. A necklace of what looked like bear claws hung around his neck.
He warned that what he had to say would probably take more than the standard two minutes allotted for citizen comments. And then he began.
His subject was an e-mail Waterman had sent to town resident Joseph S. Dolock that discussed, among other things, her horror that the Narragansetts might build a casino in Charlestown; her joy at seeing them dance at their powwows, and her sense that tribal members gain privileges because "simply by accident of birth [they] can claim Native American blood in some fraction."
In a rich voice, Brown told Waterman he found her message "extremely offensive." And for 20 or 30 minutes, he enumerated the reasons, starting with the arrival of "the strangers" from Europe on the shores of pre-Colonial America, where "the land, the water and the air were pristine, game was plentiful, the trees were untouched. … In a very short time, all these things were gone."
Anything tribal members have regained in the last few decades, Brown said, "is not privilege. It is the law of the land." As for members' bloodlines, "You don't know my genealogy. I don't recall seeing you there checking our rolls. . . . I recall you saying we sing and dance well."
A powwow, he added, is "not an event. It's not a thing. It's a title. You're looking at a powwow. It literally means he, she, they that dream."
Waterman's writing, Brown told her, "is based on ignorance and misunderstanding of people who have lived on this land since the dinosaurs were here." Now, he said, those people "can't sell a can of soda on their land because of the actions of people in this room . . .
"I truly wish you would reconsider what you've said and offer an apology to the aboriginal people of this land. You shouldn't have said those things. You're dead wrong."
AND THEN it was Waterman's turn. Clad in a gray linen jacket and silver drop earrings, she had sat quietly during Brown's lecture, hands folded under her chin and propped on the council table. Now she spoke into her microphone.
At first she offered explanations — she'd thought the message was private, though she should have known better; she was concerned about gambling, not about the Narragansetts. She gave the standard politician's non-apology: "I am very sorry if you are offended."
"I do not find it to be a racist statement at all," she told Brown. "I do not consider myself a racist in any way."
"Most don't," Brown shot back. "Most racists don't."
"I have no prejudice against you whatsoever," Waterman continued. "I am concerned about the possibility of gaming . . . and that is all."
But after Brown scolded her again — "you should think before writing" — her tone softened.
"I regret more than I can say writing that e-mail," she said. "I was incredibly stupid to write it. I am apologizing to the tribe as best I can."
THERE WAS more, of course; in Charlestown there is always more. And so it was back to the circus.
Mageau and Councilman John O. Craig Jr. offered objections to Waterman's assertion in the e-mail that the town's government "is more corrupt than you want to believe," demanding proof or an apology to all town council members and employees. Waterman replied that she was referring only to three Open Meetings Law violations the attorney general's office had found in the actions of the council majority.
"That's not what you mean, Madam President," Mageau insisted.
"How do you know what I mean?" Waterman demanded.
In answer, Mageau read aloud from the e-mail: "They are carefully doing their scheming and they understand just how much money can be made through exploitation." Waterman maintained that she o meant only that there was "a potential for a great deal of money to be made in real-estate deals."
Mageau proposed that Town Solicitor Robert E. Craven look into whether the council could investigate the charges. Council Vice President Harriet A. Allen, Waterman's sole ally on the council, laughed as she said, "Would you like investigate yourself, Mr. Craven? I can predict how it will turn out." Waterman offered former Atty. Gen. Arlene Violet or former Common Cause executive director H. Philip West as alternative investigators.
Craven said he'd have to look into the council's powers in regard to itself, though it was clear it can sit as an investigative panel. But he added that he had spent 9½ years in the attorney general's office himself, and was offended at the suggestion that "the ball is already hiked and the play is already called."
"I am not offended," he corrected himself. "I consider the source . . .
"I have faced more difficulties in my career by prosecuting public corruption than any of you have dreamed of," he said. "And yet, I did my job with dignity and left with my head held high."
Said Waterman: "I didn't mean you."
FINALLY — AFTER resident Cliff Vanover told the council, "The only things missing tonight are the violins;" after Craig responded with a barnyard epithet; after Waterman asked him to apologize, saying she was offended, and Craig replied, "I'm offended at you!" — after Allen accused Mageau of giving Councilman Bruce W. Picard hand signals telling him how to vote, and Mageau reacted indignantly, and Waterman told them, "Will you both cut it out?" — something extraordinary happened. And the evening's high drama returned.
Without a word, Waterman got up from behind the council table and walked down the chamber's side to the rear. Coming up through the center of the room, she stood at the same microphone where Brown had spoken minutes earlier, and faced her council colleagues.
"I want to address the council as a private citizen, which is what I tried to do in my e-mail," she said. But, she said, she should have known that there is no such thing as a private communication when you are Town Council president.
"It was a very stupid blunder on my part," she said. "I am very sorry."
She had damaged the town's relationship with the tribe, she said, something she never wanted to do. She had let the council down.
"What I did was inexcusable," Waterman said. "And I am sorry for the people of Charlestown, and sorry for the council I serve on that I wrote that e-mail."
Then, having taken her medicine, Kate Waterman walked back to her seat at the table and adjourned the meeting.
Alan Rosenberg is The Journal's South County regional editor.
Indian rights = special rights
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